Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Compassion Through Imagination

Not all of us are great scholars or even interested in scholarly pursuits. Most of us want to do our work, do it well enough to finish the day with a sense of peace, and go home to our loved ones where we are the masters of our domain, pursuing our own delights and catering to our own whims. During this time of autonomy, we often turn to reading or watching television as favored pastimes.  Our favorite books and shows wash over us, sweeping us into their stories as the reality of our own world floats away. During these times, when we are engrossed in the dialogue and nonverbal communication, we assess and make sense of the situation, even anticipating what may come next and preparing ourselves to react. We find delight in guessing correctly what turn the story will take and equally enjoy being surprised by an unexpected plot twist. As we go deeper into the story, we find ourselves relating to one of the characters and even imagine the entire story from their point of view. It’s as though we have become Hermione Granger, Naruto, or T’Challa (Wakanda Forever!). 

This deep connection is only possible because of our ability to imagine ourselves in the story. Our connection to ourselves expands to include the thoughts, feelings, and outcomes of the character. When we engage in this practice with the intention to connect and be changed by the story, we are making this time, this practice, sacred. Sacred, while typically reserved for items related to religion, means to set something apart with reverence and respect. We all have things in our lives that we have marked as sacred: our family, our heirloom Bible or Quran passed down from our grandmother, our grandfather’s pipe, our baby pictures of our grown children (from the time before digital photography), and so on. These things are sacred to us because we have made them so. The same is true of our experiences, lived or shared vicariously from others.

Engaging purposefully in this practice—watching or reading with the intention of allowing the content to move and to change us—engages our imagination in a sacred way.  We rejoice when great things happen to us in the mind of that persona, we despair with them in their grief, we laugh, we cry, and above all, we are moved by how it must feel to be them in each moment. The word for this connection in which we possess a deep understanding of how it must feel to be in another’s shoes is empathy. It is our sacred imagination that allows us to empathize with the characters, and this is an important practice we can use in our personal lives to enrich our relationships.

Sometimes, self-reflection uncovers areas where our ideals are higher than our humanity (our bar is set too high), and we must get back in touch. Imagine the connection you have with a friend or a coworker or even a customer or client. Imagine how it must feel to be where they are right now, in the middle of whatever they are going through, and embrace that feeling. From this point of view, we are better able to understand their actions, their reactions, and even their motivations. This act of empathizing with another is the very foundation that allows us to respond to them with compassion. When we take the time to understand how they are experiencing their situation, we are able to connect with them in ways that makes our time with them more sacred, more healing, and more effective.

The most powerful way to connect with another human being is through understanding them in a way that helps us to grow together toward a better mutual outcome. That is the very essence of compassionate collaboration and will strengthen our families, our teams, and our community relationships.

  • Stepping into someone else’s shows as a sacred act allows us to collaborate with compassion.
  • Where do you see relationships that will benefit from more compassion?
  • Where do you see opportunities to help others understand your own journey in a mutually respectful way?

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